Click here to access Stuart Shanker's guest article: Expanding our Understanding of the Meaning of "Safe."

FOCUS ON: Healthy Relationships

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Creating positive learning environments for students, staff, and families is a priority for many school and community leaders. While the language and approach to creating a positive culture may vary – often depending on the kinds of issues that school staff focus on – the key component to all effective approaches is always positive and healthy relationships.

Healthy relationships are about those connections between people that increase well-being, are mutually enjoyable, and enhance or maintain each individual’s positive self-concept.

Whether the approach is to focus on social emotional learning, character education, or bullying prevention, research shows that healthy relationships will support learning engagement and positive mental health.

Promoting healthy relationships starts with believing that everyone is equal and has inherent value. It builds on the understanding that differences are not what set people apart. Rather, differences are an expression of diversity that need to be embraced and valued. Diversity is what makes our schools and communities strong and vibrant. Everyone benefits from valuing diversity because everyone is encouraged to be themselves.

To have a welcoming, caring, safe, and respectful school culture means positive relationships between staff, students, families, and community members are evident throughout the school community. This begins with school staff committing to knowing who their students are as individuals and demonstrating positive regard for all students. Research shows that when a student feels connected to at least one caring adult in the school environment, that student is more likely to view school positively and more likely to complete high school.

There are students who arrive at school with limited relationship skills and experiences and this can be at the root of problem behaviour, disengagement, and conflict with others. To overcome these challenges, students need to experience positive relationships with caring adults, observe positive role models, and receive explicit instruction in the skills essential to positive relationships, such as handling emotions, cooperating with others, resisting inappropriate social pressure, resolving conflict and seeking help when needed.

There are many approaches schools may choose to promote the development of healthy relationships. For examples Safe and Caring is currently working with educators at Mistassiniy School in Wabasca, Alberta to deliver Aggression Replacement Training (ART) with local students. Programs like ART offer strategies for working through challenging social and emotional issues with students, and equip children and youth with the tools needed to respond to complex social situations in a way that promotes healthy relationships and prevent bullying or aggressive behaviour. To learn more about the program, check out our project webpage.

COMMUNITY: What It Means to Wear Pink on Pink Shirt Day

Pink Shirt Day-homepage-banner-01Chances are you’ve heard of Pink Shirt Day. Perhaps your office is encouraging you and your colleagues to participate. Perhaps your kids are celebrating at school, or you’ve heard about an upcoming anti-bullying day on the news. Perhaps you are organizing a school or community initiative, selling or giving away branded pink shirts, distributing posters, and actively promoting the day.

At Safe and Caring, our own Pink Shirt Day infographic, created in partnership with the Government of Alberta, encourages you to #StandUp  and show your support for those who experience bullying by donning pink on February 24. But what exactly are we standing up for?

The original Pink Shirt Day was organized in small town Berwick, Nova Scotia, when a 9th grade student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt on his first day at school. Fellow students responded by encouraging everyone to wear their own pink shirts the next day, to symbolize that their support for that kid, and that homophobic bullying isn’t tolerated at their school.

If you are interested in learning more about the story, check out this short video.

The magic of the Pink Shirt Day story is not that some students stood up for a younger, and more vulnerable peer, or that they set a new fashion trend in their school. This is a story of how a student body overcame their differences in age, interests, backgrounds, and social cliques to stand up for something important to them. A story of  how those students ensured that their school environment was safe and caring for newcomers and respectful of different backgrounds, where all students can feel a sense of belonging. It’s a story of how those students stood up for and modeled healthy relationships at their school.

Increasingly, evidence shows that healthy relationships are much more effective at ending bullying than anti-bullying rules and punishment. Components of healthy relationships include trust, respect, fairness, equality, stability, enjoyment, contentment, and belonging. When kids respect each other, and have a personal connection to their classmates – even something as small as knowing their names –  they are much less likely to purposefully hurt them. Healthy relationships are also proven to increase our resilience, self-confidence, pro-social skills, stress management, and overall well-being, so that even if kids experience bullying, healthy relationships better prepare them to cope, and ensure that they have a support network of trusted peers and adults to help them navigate the situation.

So when you get dressed this Wednesday, remember that when you put on your pink shirt, you aren’t just standing up against bullying, you are standing up in support of positive relationships. In support of respect, friendship, emotional safety, and caring.

Use this day of pink as a reminder to always model positive relationships with the children,  young adults, and indeed, even fellow adults, in your life. By doing so, you can show them the value of caring and respectful interactions, and  make a true and lasting difference in their lives, regardless of the colour of your shirt.

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PERSPECTIVES: Shaping a Safe and Caring Future

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by: Barry Davidson, Executive Director 

There has been a tremendous amount of material developed in Alberta over the past years in the area of bullying and developing healthy relationships. Safe and Caring Schools and Communities has been at the forefront of much of this evidence-based work. For almost two decades we have created materials and tool kits that school and community leaders can use to create safe, healthy learning environments. Despite this effort, we are obviously not reaching every school and community that needs help. We need to determine how we can get there!

We have understood for years that our children and youth look to the adults around them for role modeling, mentoring, and an understanding of social expectations. So why are incidents still occurring where the adults involved don’t demonstrate the respectful, healthy way relationships should be modeled?

Currently, I have a family member dealing with a bullying situation in her school. Her parents appear to be doing everything right. The account of the situations I am receiving from them after countless meetings with the leadership at the school paint a picture of dismissiveness, victim blaming, and condescension. I have been involved in several similar situations and would be the first to understand that one side of the story does not cover what actually went on. I have also been involved in several situations like this that of been handled respectfully, utilizing evidence-based tools and resources to help the situation and have walked away proud of the parents and professionals involved. In this case,  the examples being set by the school leaders have driven me to understand why our work at Safe and Caring is so desperately needed.

It is critical for adults in our world to understand the importance of setting the example of healthy, respectful relationships and model that behaviour when you are in a position of authority and leadership. Everybody is watching and it is unacceptable to choose the easy way out through blame and lack of action.

Our education system has ready access to support materials, research, and programs that allow educators and administrators to deal with almost any situation. I also understand that we are all overloaded and trying our best to work with the high expectations and pressure put on us by the surrounding community. This is no excuse to choose not to do the right thing. As community leaders we choose to take on that role and is wrong to default to the “victim brought it on” position when evidence points to a broader problem. Blaming the victim for “having to deploy an expensive anti-bullying program” actually makes the case for a lack of judgement and appropriate action.

I know of dozens of school leadership teams, community leaders, and citizens that mentor and model behaviour that is exactly what is needed for our kids to learn. Without this positive modeling we have nobody but ourselves to blame when social issues crop up with our youth.

For anybody that is feeling unsupported or overwhelmed, especially in a school or community environment, please contact Safe and Caring or your local support team. Take the time today to become aware of the resources that are available to you.

We do not have the luxury of just hoping the next generation can figure out the world around them by themselves. We must show them the way to developing healthy relationships and be the ones that put hope, opportunity, and respect into their minds so that they can accomplish great things!

I have hope and faith in adults understanding this very important role in shaping our future for the better!

Get started:

COMMUNITY: 25 Ways to Celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week

Celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week (February 14-20, 2016) with some of these family-friendly ideas! Celebrate yourself, or encourage your classroom or workplace to get involved!

  1. Write each member of your family a notes, telling them why you appreciate them. Encourage the rest of your fam to do the same.
  2. Smile at 15 strangers each day.
  3. Leave your barista an extra large tip when you order your morning coffee.
  4. Make a point of complimenting your friends and family. Make those around you feel special.
  5. In your classroom or office, write something nice about each of your students/classmates/colleagues on post-its, and leave them on their desk for a friendly surprise.
  6. Plan a nice family dinner.
  7. Bring home-baked cookies or muffins to school or work.
  8. Make a small donation to a local charity.
  9. Shovel your neighbour’s driveway or walkway when you shovel your own.
  10. Offer your seat on a crowded bus or train.
  11. Buy a coffee or tea for a colleague.
  12. Eat lunch for someone new.
  13. Visit a sick friend. Bring them soup or tea.
  14. Pick up litter you see on the sidewalk.
  15. Clean out your closets and donate gently used clothes to a local shelter or Salvation Army.
  16. Pay for the person behind you in a fast food drive thru.
  17. Gather canned goods to bring to a local food bank.
  18. Hold the door open for someone.
  19. Donate books to the library, or local homeless shelter.
  20. Give blood.
  21. Fill up the parking meter for the person who parks in your spot after you.
  22. Let someone ahead of you in line at the grocery store.
  23. Let your parents know how much you love them.
  24. Choose to forgive someone you’ve been upset with.
  25. Treat yourself! Set aside 30 minutes each day to do something that makes you happy, whether it’s yoga, an evening walk, a morning beverage on the porch.

Do you have any other ideas planned to celebrate kindness with upcoming week? Share them with us on Twitter, @safeandcaring #RAKweek

RESOURCE: Signs You Are in a Healthy Romantic Relationship

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Last week we kicked off February, the month of love, caring, and friendship with our latest resource: The Importance of Romantic Relationships. Today, we are pleased to share the next installment in our tip sheet series on Healthy Romantic Relationships!

Tip Sheet - Healthy Romantic Relationship Signs you are in a healthy romantic relationship was developed in partnership with Dr. Matthew Johnson from the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. It is freely available to download, print, and share.

It works great as a poster too!

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Excerpt:

“Relationships come in many forms and it’s not always easy to know if yours is healthy. Researchers have carefully studied couple relationships for decades. This checklist pulls key information from this wealth of knowledge to help you decide for yourself.”

Check out this resource for yourself!

RESOURCE: Importance of Romantic Relationships

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Here at Safe and Caring, we value healthy relationships of all kinds! With Valentines Day and Family Day right on the horizon, we see February as a month of love, caring, and friendship! That’s why we are thrilled to share our most recent resource with you.

Tip Sheet - Why relationships matterSafe and Caring has partnered with two researchers from the University of Alberta, Department of Human Ecology, Rebecca Horne and Dr. Matthew Johnson, to develop a new tip sheet promoting healthy couple relationships: The importance of romantic relationships is now freely available for download and print, and for posting on bulletin boards and dormitory walls.

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Excerpt:

“Romantic relationships help you become the best version of yourself, striving for more in life. Those with healthy intimate ties tend to work harder, earn more money, develop stronger community ties, and engage in fewer criminal activities, to name a few.”

Later this week we will be sharing another resource from this series. Thank you Matt and Rebecca!

Check out this resource for yourself!

YOUTH PERSPECTIVES: Healthy, engaging classrooms

By Stephany Grant

As I embark on the first year towards my after degree in Education, my head is swirling with a million questions about my future career as a teacher. “How will I finish all of my lesson planning?” “How will I keep my classrooms managed?” “How I am going to be the best teacher I possibly can be?” I know that the answer to this last question is not an easy one, and it will not be an easy task, but I think that building on some of my pre-existing knowledge I will be able to start my journey to becoming the best possible teacher I can be. My main goal to accomplishing this feat will be to create healthy and engaging classrooms for my students.

I was lucky enough to have Safe and Caring Schools and Communities take me on as a practicum student during my Bachelor of Science in Human Ecology. As Human Ecologists we study anything and everything to do with the family but focus primarily on their connections to the social, environmental, political and cultural contexts around them. My Human Ecology degree has given me great insight to the importance of healthy classrooms. It is so important to form meaningful connections with the kids I will be teaching. Knowing where my students are coming from, and where they are starting at is a great benefit not only to myself as the teacher, but also to the child. Children all have different experiences that make them who they are, and it is important to be aware of this to understand and value how each child may learn very differently. Human Ecology taught me that school is a large context that my students will be in for much of heir lives, so making the classroom as positive, healthy and engaging as I possibly can will benefit my students in so many ways.

I witnessed the effects of being in a positive context first hand when I had my practicum at Safe and Caring. During my time there Safe and Caring taught me so many simple ways that I could create positive, engaging and healthy classrooms. They taught me that how important it is to embrace, and celebrate the diversity in my classroom. They taught me the power of a positive attitude and the lengths that changing attitudes can take you. They showed me how important it is to have inclusive classrooms and how much of a difference that can make in my future students lives. I also learned the power of collaboration and how using others knowledge can make you better, and when you are better your students benefit.

I think that the task of becoming a great teacher will be a learning process but I feel very fortunate that I have had these experiences that will hopefully allow me to start off my teaching career giving my students the best possible healthy and engaging classrooms.

COMMUNITY: Bullying Awareness Week 2015, November 15-21

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Print and download National Bullying Awareness Week handout

National Bullying Awareness Week (NBAW)

NBAW began in 2002 when an Alberta father and educator, Bill Belsey advocated bullying prevention through education and awareness. NBAW has grown and is now celebrated across Canada and around the world.

The goal of this annual event is to increase awareness around the importance of preventing bullying and promoting healthy relationships. Bullying can affect Albertans in their schools, workplaces, communities and online. Bullying creates fear and threatens the safety and well-being of individuals, families and society as a whole. When bullying happens, all of us suffer.  To decrease or eliminate bullying behaviours, we need to work together to create a civil society built on healthy and respectful relationships. When people feel respected and included, they are more likely to reach their potential, give back to their communities and promote healthy relationships with others.

Be Inclusive, Be Kind, Be Respectful
NBAW reminds Albertans about the importance of promoting healthy relationships. This year, all Albertans are encouraged to “Be Inclusive, Be Kind, Be Respectful.”

Promoting Positivity
Positive Post-It Notes began when Alberta youth Caitlin Haacke posted positive notes to prevent bullying in her community. Positive Post-Its has spread across Canada and the world. The RCMP adopted a similar approach with “Positive Tickets” and has been recognizing positive behaviours demonstrated by Albertans.

Albertans are encouraged to prevent bullying and promote healthy relationships by using Positive Post-Its to share inclusive, kind and respectful messages. Albertans can use social media to share their messages by taking a picture of their Positive Post-It or creating a digital Post It and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with #BeYou #BullyFree.

How Do I Participate?
Get involved in NBAW by sharing positive Post-Its and taking part in the events in your community! We all have a role in creating an inclusive, kind and respectful Alberta and beyond! Here are a few events happening in Alberta:

  • Monday (Nov 16) – Youth Engagement: As part of the “This Is Our Canada: Exploring the West Retreat” the John Humphrey Centre is challenging young people to share their thoughts on healthy relationships. Listen, learn and share your story.
  • Tuesday (Nov 17) – Schools: Schools are encouraged to set up a space where members of their school community (students, staff, families, community partners, etc.) can post positive notes and messages.
  • Wednesday (Nov 18) – Cyberbullying: Participate in our webcast about cyberbullying and promoting healthy online behaviours. Our panelists will be available to answer questions via live chat.
  • Thursday (Nov 19) –Workplaces: Workplaces across Alberta are encouraged to promote healthy relationships by setting up a space where employees can post positive notes and messages.
  • Friday (Nov 20) – Communities: Encourage people in your community to share how they promote healthy relationships in local clubs, sports, faith-based organizations, community events and more.
  • Saturday (Nov 21) – Gay Straight Alliance Conference: All K-12 students, teachers, administrators, school resource officers, and other school staff are invited to find out more about creating, supporting and sustaining a GSA at this Calgary conference.  Visit www.ismss.ualberta.ca for more info.

Where Can I get More Information?
Learn more about NBAW and get more information on how to prevent bullying and promote healthy relationships by visiting humanservices.alberta.ca/abuse-bullying

Print and download National Bullying Awareness Week handout